TFC’s Pozuelo will try to keep magic coming on heels of electrifying MLS debut

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The fallout from Alejandro Pozuelo’s explosive Major League Soccer debut last Friday is still being felt around the soccer world.

The Spanish midfielder picked up a brace and an assist in his first game with Toronto FC as the Reds clobbered New York City FC 4-0 at BMO Field.

Across the Atlantic, Pozuelo’s exploits were applauded by his former teammates at Racing Genk despite the fact that he pushed hard to be released from the Belgian First Division club just as they were entering the league playoffs.

“Everyone is really happy for him because, frankly, he’s a good guy,” Genk centre back Sebastien Dewaest told reporters this week. “He regaled the fans (in Toronto) for his first (goal), a left lob, a panenka, an assist … It’s very good for him”.

“That was impressive,” added Genk right back Casper de Norre.

Part of the Genk player’s goodwill may have to do with the fact that, even without Pozuelo, they managed to defeat Anderlecht 3-0 in the first match of the playoffs the same weekend their former teammate was lighting things up for TFC. Pozuelo said on Thursday that he heard from many of his old teammates after Friday’s match. Also as a result of that performance, Pozuelo understands that TFC fans are going to be looking for another huge game from him this Saturday against the visiting Chicago Fire, and in every game after that. The native of Seville, in southern Spain, realizes he set the bar very high in his first game with Toronto but contends that he’ll be hard-pressed to match what he did against NYCFC every week no matter how hard he works in training or on game days.

“Now everybody want (me) to score every week (but all) I can say is that was one of my best games in my career,” Pozuelo said. “I need to continue to try (to do) the same (type of performance) but it’s most important to help the team. If I score, if I don’t score, for me it’s not a problem. I want more the team to win the game. And I try to help them win the game.”

TFC coach Greg Vanney is expecting that a lot of attention will be paid to Toronto’s new attacking midfielder by the opposition going foward and they’ll have to adjust accordingly.

“They can try (to mark Pozuelo),” said Vanney. “But I think what’s interesting now is you see teams trying to man-mark Michael (Bradley). You’re going to now man-mark Pozuelo and what is that going to mean for everybody else? Because you’re going to have two guys marking Jozy (Altidore) because he’s a handful in and of himself. So eventually the numbers start to dwindle and your ability to cover certain areas of the field starts to get more difficult. So I suspect more and more it will be a collective defending effort (against us). And we’ll have to, as a team, find the right ways to break that down and open up the spaces that we want to exploit. We play what the other team gives us, and we play what we can set up.”

Vanney, of course, isn’t expecting two sensational goals and an assist from Pozuelo every match.

“It was a great performance (by Pozuelo) obviously (but) for me, the most important part was just the collective performance,” Vanney added. “As we know, whether you’re Michael Jordan or anybody else, some games are better than others. Some games you make these incredible plays. But people don’t score goals like that every single week. You see one of those goals once a blue moon.”

The Reds are 3-0 to start the MLS season and Pozuelo seemed to be in an upbeat mood following training on Thursday. Part of that may be his comfort level with the club and the fact they won big in his debut. But also, the 27-year-old is warming up to his new city and is thrilled that his wife and children will be joining him this Sunday from Spain.

“I’m very impressed because the people here in Toronto are very nice, very welcoming,” he said. “They’re very kind and respectful and when they approach you they do it a respectful manner.”

Defender Auro is questionable for Saturday’s match against Chicago because he has a sore hamstring.

JOHNNY ON THE SPOT

Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio leads Major League Soccer with three assists in as many games. And he’s done that without being totally healthy.

The Brampton native underwent sports hernia surgery after his breakout 2018 season and wasn’t feeling totally up to snuff early in the 2019 campaign when TFC played Panamanian side Independiente in Champions League play last month. But the 26-year-old is finally feeling like his old self.

“I think the last week or so was the last hump to get over from the surgery,” Osorio said. “After (the Champions League) I (started feeling) good. I went to the national team camp (in March) and felt really good throughout the camp. So now I don’t think about (the surgery) too much.”

Osorio and TFC’s new attacking midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo clicked in their first match together last Friday – a 4-0 victory over New York City FC. Osorio had 17 goals in 43 total appearances, with 10 assists, for TFC last season and has recorded three assists already this year. And though he has yet to score, the 26-year-old Canadian believes he can have an even better season in 2019. Already he has recorded eight key passes in league play (passes that lead to a shot on goal).

“I’m excited,” Osorio said. “I feel like I’m getting back to where I was and even better. I wouldn’t say I’ve picked right off from last season because I’ve yet to find the back of the net. But I think it’s coming. I am happy that I’m creating chances, I feel like I have created a lot. And now with the addition of Alejandro it will be a lot easier to create chances as well as he opens more opportunities.”

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